Visiting a new church can be overwhelming. You will ask yourself “what to wear? Am I going to be welcome? How should I act? What are the traditions and rituals? And more… We hope this section can help to alleviate some nervousness of your first visit by answering few questions you might have
Everyone is welcome at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church. However, since we are at worship in the presence of God and in His Kingdom, we wear the best we have for Sunday. Please consider other garments in lieu of jeans, shorts, low-cut tops and skirts above the knee.
From the moment that you enter the front doors of St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church please feel yourself home because you are always welcome. Following Divine Liturgy, be sure to join us in Fellowship Hour in JoyHall so our priest and parish family members can meet you!
At St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church children and young people are not segregated away from the adult community during worship. There is no children’s church. There is no youth service. There is only the gathering of the One Body of Christ, an intergenerational assembly in which all participate equally, regardless of age, in building the church community.
You can sit or stand wherever you find a place, however when you see that a table is set for a memorial service, please leave the first two rows in front of the table for the family of the departed.
The time to arrive at church is before the service starts, but for some unknown reason, it has become the custom – or rather the bad habit – for some to come to church late. If you arrive after the Divine Liturgy begins, try to enter the church quietly – and observe what is happening. If the Epistle or Gospel is being read or the Little or Great Entrance is taking place, wait until it is finished to quickly find a seat. If Father is giving the sermon, stay in the back until he has concluded. If in doubt, check with one of the ushers to see if it is a good time to seat yourself. Try not to interrupt the Liturgy with you entrance. By the way, the best way to avoid this problem is to arrive on time before 10:15 – then you don’t have to wonder if it’s okay to come in or not. People who come late to the Liturgy should not partake of the Eucharist!
Our worship is chanted and sung primarily in English and Arabic. You will find bilingual service books in the pews, where you can follow the Divine Liturgy. The Orthros and the few variables are available online in bilingual language. Please ask for help once and you will be able to find your way easily.
Lighting candles is an important part of Orthodox worship. We light them as we pray, making an offering to accompany our prayers. Orthodox typically light candles when coming into the church – and that is usually the best time to light them. In our Church there is a dedicated place outside in the hall at the entrance of the church.
As soon as you enter an Orthodox church will see an iconostasis before its altar. “Iconostasis” means “icon-stand”. At the center of Iconostasis you will find the Beautiful Door or the Royal Door, from where the King of Glory comes out at the time of Holy Communion to communicate with us his Body and His blood. The icon of Christ to the right, the icon of the Theotokos to the left, beside the icon of Lord Jesus Christ is always the icon of John the Baptist and beside the icon of the Theotokos is always the icon of the Patron of the Church in our case it is the icon of St. George the Trophey Bearer.
Orthros starts at 9:00 with few people around the more you are into Orthodoxy the more you enjoy every word and specially the six psalms that are read at the start of the service. Since at the Orthros we are celebrating the resurrection of the Lord one of the 11 Gospels proclaiming the resurrection is read and the Gospel is placed at the entrance of the church for veneration. The account of that Gospel is chanted in two different ways and at two different times during Orthros, at the middle of the Orthros and at the end. During that ending hymn that chants the account of the Gospel “The Doxa” (Glory to the Father and to the Son…) the priest brings the Gospel from the entrance of the Church to the Altar Table. The light are turned on when we chant “Glory be to Thee who has shown the Light…” You will notice the church being filled with people… Soon enough the Divine Liturgy will start at 10:15 with: “Blessed of the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit now and ever and unto ages of ages.” During first part of the service and while the hymns of the day are chanted the Priest makes the little entrance which represents the entrance to the Holy Places of God where we will soon chant with the angels Holy God! Holy Mighty! Holy Immortal! Have mercy on us. All those who have chanted this hymn representing the angels will be called upon to receive the Holies (the Body and Blood of Christ): The Holies are for the Holy. Those who come after that hymn should abstain from the Holy Communion.
In some Orthodox cultures, crossing one’s legs is taboo and considered to be very disrespectful. In our North American culture, while there are no real taboos concerning crossing one’s legs, we tend to cross our legs to get comfortable while sitting. Should we cross our legs in church? No. Not because it is “wrong” to ever cross legs, but rather because it is too casual – and too relaxed – for being in church.
At the Orthodox Church we do not bow the knee on Sunday because it is the Day of the Lord, while on other days we kneel and we make prostrations down to the floor.
You see many faithful making the sign of the cross frequently. Orthodox sign themselves whenever the Holy Trinity is invoked, whenever they venerate the cross or an icon, and on many other occasions in the course of the Liturgy. But people do not do everything the same way. Some people cross themselves three times in a row, and some bow and touch the floor with their right hand.
On first entering a church some people may come up to an icon, make a “metania” i/e they cross themselves and bowing twice, then kiss the icon, then make one more metania.
We cross with our right hand thumb and first two fingertips pressed together, last two fingers pressed down to the palm. We start from the forehead to the bossom then to the right elbow then to the left elbow (the opposite of Roman Catholics and some Protestants). And this has a meaning: The three fingers together for the unity of the Holy Trinity; two fingers brought down to the palm for the two natures of Christ in the womb of the Theotokos, then to the right elbow because he ascended and sat down to the right side of the Father and then to the left because with His cross he gathered all nations to Him.
Many people like to touch the hem of Father’s phelonion as he goes through the congregation for the Great Entrance. This is a nice, pious custom by which you “attach” your personal prayers to the prayer of the entrance with the holy gifts. It is not appropriate to touch the Discos and the Chalice that the priest carries in his hand, however if you bow your head below the chalice he will place the holy chalice over your head
We greet each other with a hug or a kiss “Greet one another with a kiss of love” (1 Peter 5:14), and we venerate the icons with a kiss, we never kiss the icon at the face, mostly at the hand or at anyplace around the figure. The priest greets the congregation with “Peace be to all” the congregation replies “And to thy Spirit”, the priest continues “Let us love one another, that with one accord we may confess”. Love peace and accord and the basis of our confession of faith. However, we greet each other after Church and we meet with them at the JoyHall during the coffee hour.
Isn’t it great to come to church and see friends and family members? But wait until coffee hour to say “Hi” to them. It just isn’t appropriate to greet people and have a conversation with them during the services. Besides being disrespectful towards God, it is rude towards the other people in the church who are trying to worship. Talk to God while in church through your prayers, hymns, and thanksgiving, and to your friends in the JoyHall afterwards.
Have you ever looked at an icon in just the right light and seen the lip prints all over it? It’s disgusting, isn’t it? In fact, it’s downright gross. Lipstick may look fine on lips, but it looks horrible on icons, crosses, the Communion spoon and the priest’s or bishop’s hand. Icons have been ruined by lipstick; and even though the cross can usually be cleaned after everyone venerates it, it just isn’t considerate to others to impose your lipstick on them. What is the answer? If you insist on wearing lipstick to church, blot your lips well before venerating an icon, taking Communion, or kissing the cross or the priest’s or bishop’s hand. Even better, wait until after church to put it on. After all, God is not impressed with how attractive you look externally – your makeup or clothing – but how attractive you are internally, your adornment with good works and piety.
Did you know that the proper way to greet a priest or bishop is to ask his blessing and kiss his right hand? How do you do this? Approach the priest or bishop with your right hand over your left hand and say “Father (or “Master” in the case of the bishop), bless.” He will make the sign of the Cross over your hands, but he will not wait for you to kiss his hand, try to steel a kiss, you are kissing the hand that is blessing you, he is borrowing his hand to the Christ Himself. This is much more appropriate (and traditional) than shaking their hands. After all, the priest and bishop are not just “one of the boys.” When you kiss their hands, you show respect for their office – they are the ones who “bless and sanctify” you and who offer the holy gifts on your behalf. So next time you greet your priest or bishop, don’t shake his hand, ask for his blessing.
During the Eucharistic prayer, the Lamb is consecrated to be the Body of Christ, and the chalice of wine is consecrated to be His Blood. The priest places the “Lamb” in the chalice with the wine. And call upon the people “With fear of God, and faith and love, draw near”.
Non-Orthodox present at the liturgy, are not admitted to partake of the consecrated bread and wine – the real body and blood of the Lord – which are reserved to those confessing the same faith and who are in peace and accord with each other at that church assembly. Visitors are often encouraged to receive the Antidoron which is the blessed bread that is distributed at the end of the Divine Liturgy as an expression of Christian widen fellowship respect and love. The Antidoron means “instead of gifts”, the Body and Blood of the Lord are the most precious Gifts.
Leaving church before the Dismissal – besides being rude – deprives us of a blessing. Worship has a beginning (“Blessed is the Kingdom…”) and an end (“Let us depart in peace…”). To leave immediately after Communion is to treat church like a fast food restaurant where we come and go as we please. We live in a fast-paced world where we seem to be hurrying from place to place. But in God’s presence, we need to make every attempt to fight this pressure to move on to the next thing on the day’s agenda. We deprive ourselves of blessings by not being still and participating in God’s holiness. Eat and run at McDonald’s – but stay in church and thank God for his precious gifts. It is a custom to exchange a salutation with the Pastor and kiss the cross in his hand before leaving the Church.